Last preached February 16th, 2014
Even though this week I received Final Fellowship as a Unitarian Universalist Minister, there was a day in seminary when a professor, one of the most respected ministers in our religious movement, told me he did not think it was possible for me to ever be fellowshipped and ordained as a Unitarian Universalist Minister. His concern was that there was one, unwritten but very real qualification that I, as a military chaplain candidate with a Government Security Clearance would never be able to fulfill. Without this one thing, he could not see me ever becoming a Unitarian Universalist Minister.
That requirement? At least one felony arrest for protesting something.
While he was yanking my chain, he wasn’t far off. There is something deeply rooted in the identity of Unitarian Universalist Ministers, and indeed in the movement of Unitarian Universalism, that calls us to speak truth to power… and to do so in acts of public witness. The first war that Unitarians and Universalists in America are known to have protested was the War of 1812. Unitarians, Universalists, and now Unitarian Universalists have demonstrated to end slavery, to give the right to vote to women, to end the mistreatment of Native Americans, to protest the concentration of wealth, to oppose war, to uphold the civil rights of people of color, of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender persons, for marriage equality and equal protection, and to call for immigration reform. We have stood on picket lines with unions, we have walked across bridges with Dr. King. We have opposed torture after 9-11, and we have stood outside the gates of Ft. Meade Maryland, protesting NSA Surveillance. We have marched against genocide, both in the United States and overseas. We have called for justice for those wronged by a legal system that is so often unjust. We have marched and chanted for reproductive freedom, for equal and better wages, for labeling of genetically modified foods, for better education… for a better world.
All of this we have done… all of this we are still doing. Just a week ago over a thousand Unitarian Universalists from across the country traveled to North Carolina to march… because our allies in the North Carolina NAACP asked us to.
And… more and more… our congregations are standing up and speaking out for the fact that Global Climate Change is real, and it is caused by the actions of humanity. More and more our congregations are standing up, marching, and protesting to protect this one planet we have from the economy we have built based upon fossil fuels.
Someone once said to me that there was no common spiritual practices amongst Unitarian Universalists… but I beg to differ. We have a communal spiritual practice, one that is not universal but very, very common amongst us. Unitarian Universalists may not all practice prayer, or sit meditation, or write journals or poetry. We may not all like liturgical services or rituals. We may not all love encounter groups where we share our deepest values and beliefs.
I’m not going to say that all Unitarian Universalists love a good protest, I have not yet met all Unitarian Universalists… but if I were to try and identify the most common spiritual practice amongst us it would have to be speaking truth to power. It would have to be marching for a good cause. It would have to be standing on a street corner with a sign. It would have to be holding a public event to raise awareness about something we value.
To tell a Unitarian Universalist that they cannot speak publically about an issue or a cause that connects to our religious values would be the same as telling an Evangelical they cannot evangelize. It would be like telling a Baptist that they cannot baptize anyone. It would be like preventing a Muslim from praying… so rooted in our history, in our identity, and in our way of understanding our faith and the world is speaking truth to power that to take that away would make us no longer us. The values that our faith hold dear, those values that look towards a good humanity, a better community, and a protected earth… those values are our religious mission, our purpose.
Two churches ago I served a congregation that ended every worship service by singing the words, “Moving towards our common goal, heal the planet, make it whole”.
I know, I’m getting a little preachy today… and I also know that there are some who find their connection to Unitarian Universalism in a different way than I am describing. There are those of us who are drawn to Unitarian Universalism not by the values upon which our Social Justice Actions are based, but by the freedom to find your own path in a supportive community. There is room in our faith tradition for those who are not as motivated to transform the world as others are… but I bet if you stick around long enough, even those who come for reasons of personal development find themselves in a march for a cause or two.
I find it telling that, when someone wishes to become fellowshipped as a Unitarian Universalist Minister, the “Orthodoxy” that we expect them to follow is not a theological one, but an Orthodoxy of values, of social justice methodologies, and of a commitment to the spiritual practice of protesting and speaking truth to power. As my professor once said… the obligatory Felony Arrest for protesting something… just about anything really.
See… now I’m in Final Fellowship I think I can speak a little truth to the UUA as well…
This weekend is the National Preach in on Climate Change… and this sermon is my contribution to that effort. And, because I want us to do more than listen… I want those of us who are willing to go out and march to call attention to the way we are changing the climate, I’m going to keep it shorter than most of my other sermons. I could stand up here and tell you all the ways that we are now seeing the effects of the changing climate from the use of fossil fuels… but in many ways that would be preaching to the choir… although I always like to preach to the choir, they tend to stay awake and listen well.
It is because I believe we are really beginning to see the effects of Global Climate Change that our speaking truth to power and demonstrating with our numbers and our presence is becoming more and more vital. It is becoming more and more difficult for people to pretend that nothing is wrong with our climate. The drought here in California is beginning to reach crisis proportions, putting at risk not only the water that has till now faithfully come out of our taps, but also the agriculture upon which our economy depends… and upon which much of the world depends on for food. We now have cities in the Southern United States regularly gridlocked by epic snow and ice storms from polar air that is wandering farther and farther away from the poles. We have sea levels really beginning to rise as the ice levels at the poles are at historic lows. We have an explosion of natural gas extraction, causing all kinds of problems for those who depend upon well water for their homes and businesses, not to mention the increasing number of earthquakes in areas not used to earthquakes. We have chemicals used in coal processing leaking into drinking water in West Virginia, and Coal Ash retention ponds bursting into rivers in North Carolina. We have mountains losing their tops in my home of Appalachia, and epic oil drilling in our home here in the Channel Islands.
And all of this has been just in the last few weeks or so… Right now, it is hard for anyone to deny that we are changing the environment. When school children get sent home because of contaminated water in West Virginia and blizzards in Atlanta… it is hard to deny that something is happening. Right now… Right now is the time for us to be public about the need to change our relationship to the earth… to speak to the world about the theological truth behind the 7th principle of Unitarian Universalism… that we are connected to all things. That the earth and all who live upon her really are an interdependent web of all existence. Protecting the earth is protecting ourselves.
So… are you ready? Are you motivated? I’m going to ask you to do two things. First, just go on a walk around the block with me. Don’t worry, it will be safe. Someone driving by who has been trying to ignore all these reports in recent days will see a lot of people who are not ignoring the changing climate, and might just begin to pay more attention. The second is, after our march and short demonstration, go by the Social Action table in Berg Hall and speak with one of the members of our Environmental Action Team about how you might be more involved.
Because there is one thing we all have in common… we all live upon the earth.
So may it be, blessed be, and amen.